Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hello, My Name Is...(insert your name here) and I'm a Maddict.

Yes, it's true. I am addicted to AMC's Mad Men. I am so deeply addicted that I spend Sunday evening waiting for Mad Men, watching Mad Men (while Twittering with other Maddicts about the writing, wardrobe, liquor) and then usually end by watching the encore for any nuances I may have missed. Yes, it's THAT serious.

I realize it's not for everyone, and appreciate that it moves too slowly for a lot of viewers. And true, the lives of Madison Avenue ad execs in the early 60s might seem a bit mundane for a weekly one hour drama, but honestly, it isn't at all vapid. I've watched True Blood on HBO prior to Mad Men all season and have decided that True Blood--despite it's mythological aspirations and allusions--is all about the action and what you see. It's a very extroverted show. Mad Men, however, is much more introverted--and in the best ways. It's so much about your reactions to what you're seeing. It takes whatever prejudices or issues that you bring to the table and it exploits them shamelessly, forcing you to examine not only why you feel a certain way, but how you got to that feeling. Maybe watching the back-to-back all season is what made the juxtaposition so stark, but anyone who watches both shows might agree.

I'm not going to analyze my favorite characters (Roger Sterling, played by the deliciously gray-haired John Slattery) or favorite plot lines (Joan, Roger & Jane...) so no spoilers or anything. I was, however, really surprised at some of the things I began to think about as I watched tonight's episode which featured two story lines that I just had to write about.

Last season Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency (where the bulk of the characters are employed) was taken over by a British firm and this "unhappy marriage" is now beginning to unravel at the seams...and quickly. There were even arguments over paperclips and pencils. Sound familiar to anyone who has been downsized due to a merger?

So here's the thing. A company that I used to work for was taken over by a larger company with strong British roots. It wasn't so bad at the beginning, but as time went on things began to grow more tense, and people began to worry about their jobs, their longevity, everything. There was a very bad purge initially and those few of us who survived felt like polar bears floating on an ice floe. Left out, scared, rudderless, and wondering where our friends had gone. A while later when the economy began to show signs of recession there was another purge, with this final move most of us from the original company were gone. These things happen, good people lose their's life. I get that.

But the gut check moment for me was that during tonight's episode, Peggy Olson, one of the younger copy writers--and the only female on the show who isn't a secretary or "lady of leisure"--is gently wooed to think about a job at another agency. She's in a horrible position, that of not wanting to bite the hand that has fed her, but also that of not wishing to miss out on an opportunity to grow. During a pivotal scene later in the episode Peggy points out that she makes much less than the guys doing her job and that her secretary doesn't show her proper respect due to her crummy salary (to which, the brilliant Don Draper replies that perhaps they ought to get her a cheaper secretary. *I wish I'd worked for such a witty crowd!*) stay in the safe harbor where you are treated okay, but not really well, or to take the leap and make the change. As Peggy says to Don leaving his office, "But what if it's my time?" I can honestly say this scene brought a lump to my throat as it was just all too close to home. Don is more forthright with her than one would expect, and I think she appreciates it. I would have.

And all this brings me to my point--it's a little one, but I do actually have one. Safe harbor is rarely as safe as we think it is, squalls come up from nowhere and the sea of life is pretty unpredictable. I can't do anything about the past, but I can resolve not to repeat it. I stayed someplace way too long, someplace where I was generally not treated very well most of the time, but when I brought up the subject of moving on or being appropriately compensated for my work, was assured (just as Peggy was) that (a) now wasn't a good time for that and (b) you'll have plenty of room to grow here, really you will. Peggy is smarter than I was...those of you who watch the show know full well just how self-possessed she is, especially this season.

I realize this comes off a little cynical and bitter, it's not, really. I just think it's good to be reminded of some of our foibles (especially when we see them repeated by a fictional character!) and to view them as cautionary tales. I know I should have left and looked after my own interests more closely, how could I have been so silly as to think otherwise? Well, I was brought up to work hard, not complain too much, and to just keep going. I was taught that loyalty would be rewarded. I think it usually is, but not as often in this present economy. I was naive, looking back on it, but that's okay. I had some wonderful experiences that I'd never have had otherwise and I like to think I'm a much stronger person now than I was then. After all...calm seas never a master sailor made.

I think Don Draper would agree...

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